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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview with Kellyanne Conway; Trump Presidency Marks Six Months with Shocking Shake-Up; Analyzing the "New York Times" Trump Interview. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired July 23, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:11] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, live in Tucson, Arizona, today. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world.
This is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES after a seismic shift in the White House communication team. You know by now, Sean Spicer out, Anthony Scaramucci in. Sarah Huckabee Sanders promoted.
So, where does that leave Kellyanne Conway? I'll ask her in just a moment.
The bigger question is this: what, if anything, is going to change? Can President Trump solve the crisis of credibility that imperils his White House?
We have an all-star panel standing by with us -- reporters, former communication chiefs and Republican strategists all here to weigh in.
But, first, counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway. I said before that the president's war against the media is harming the country, like a slow acting poison. Today, Conway and I had a blunt conversation about that.
But, first, I asked her about Scaramucci's arrival.
STELTER: Kellyanne, good morning. Thanks for being here.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, Brian. Thank you.
STELTER: I know you and Anthony Scaramucci just had a chance to talk off-camera. What was your conversation about? And what's going to change at the White House now that he is running communications?
CONWAY: Well, here we are in New York, at the CNN Time Warner studios, happily conversing in the hallways between CNN hits. So, that tells you something. We're very happy to come and take questions from, I think, an outlet that's been incredibly unfair and systematically against this president. I guess you made a business decision to do so. But we're here trying to connect the American people with the president's message and answer your questions as respectfully as we can.
Look, I think Sean Spicer should be lauded for his service to this nation as a patriot, for his service as press secretary. The president invited Sean to stay on. He was trying to add to the team, not subtract. But Sean made a different decision and I think I stand with everybody in the White House, including Anthony Scaramucci and the president and vice president themselves in thanking Sean for his service.
But we're going to -- we're going to do what we can to push back. I think there's defense, there's offense, and really my main grievance, if you will, and my main objective as somebody who does not work directly in press and comms, but as counselor to the president, tries to support what press and comms are doing in the White House, Brian. My main objective has always been, can we get complete coverage? I know we're never going to get unbiased coverage, but can we get more complete coverage? Can we connect Americans through shows like yours and else-wise on CNN and else where with the information they need?
They need to know that there have been over 800,000 jobs created. They need to know that there's 25 record highs for the Dow Jones since Donald Trump became the president. These veterans need to know there's a 24/7 hotline waiting for them at the White House as you and I speak here, that they have better protections now through the Veterans Choice Act. If they can't access timely quality care through the V.A., which most veterans say they can, they have the option of going into the private system like you and I could and getting that timely quality care.
People need to know that the regulatory roll back has meant that property owners and taxpayers and parents of public school students that they have more freedom now than they had a short while ago. They need to watch the commissioning of the USS Gerald Ford yesterday and know that the thousands of patriots who will be on that vessel going through our world's waters. They will know when they see that vessel coming that military might for America is back.
STELTER: So, in your first answer, you made several points about the administration's accomplishments. But you started by attacking CNN. Why does attacking CNN make America great again?
CONWAY: No, I'm sure you want that to go viral. I'm not attacking CNN. I am wondering CNN spends its time --
STELTER: You said the company made a business decision to be unfair to the president, when in fact what we are trying to do is cover an unusual president and try to explain what the heck is going on --
CONWAY: OK, let's break that down.
STELTER: -- at a White House that seems awfully dysfunctional.
CONWAY: Let's break that down. Well, first of all, that's not fair. And I constantly hear this coming out of the mouths of people that never worked in any White House, let alone this White House. If you want a more candid, clear look at the functioning of the White House, I invite you inside, come inside.
You know, it's two-way street. We don't -- we don't see that. I'm a very accessible person. I think you'll find with Anthony Scaramucci and others in the White House, we're tough but humble. And we -- this is the people's house.
You were welcome inside to see, but we never get those calls. We just turn on the TV and we see a one-way, non-conversation using words that are meant to deride and deny the president his due. They're incredibly disrespectful.
So, I'm here to attack CNN. I'm here to ask you --
STELTER: You're welcome here any time.
CONWAY: Thank you. As a very important person at CNN, Brian --
STELTER: It's the six-month mark of the presidency.
CONWAY: Great. He hasn't (ph) and many accomplishments that don't get covered. So, thank you for the platform.
I want America to hear what's been done for them. But they know that. The forgotten men and women are not forgotten to us. But let me --
STELTER: It's not your --
[11:05:01] STELTER: Yes, I was just going to say, not our job to do your PR. It's your job. And it seems the White House this week admitted that there's been a lot of failures because the press secretary, all of a sudden, resigned and left his job.
CONWAY: Well, because that's Sean's decision. And Sean was up against incredible odds. As the president said in a tweet about Sean, he thanks him for his service and he thinks he took a lot of unnecessary abuse.
But let me get back to whether we're attacking or not attacking CNN. Please don't -- I don't feel sorry for CNN. I don't feel sorry for you or me. We are fine.
You and I have health care benefits that are given by our employers. You and I have great jobs and we're safe in our jobs. You and I have disposable income. God bless you and your wife, Jamie, and your new daughter.
We are people who are not struggling paycheck to paycheck and not worried about paying the rent or the mortgage or the student loan voucher or the tuition payment this very month. We're not deciding between groceries and health care benefits.
I'm there for those people. And, Brian, if we can rely on your help at CNN, not to do our PR, that's silly. That's nonsense. To connect America with the information they need. If you're going to cover Russia, Russia, Russia, while we're talking about America, America, America, we're always going to be like this. If you actually look at the polls --
STELTER: This country --
CONWAY: -- this great polling analysis where they said 6 percent of Americans, 6 percent said Russia was the most important issue to them and, yet, the mainstream media has given it 75 percent of coverage. They said 35 percent of --
STELTER: In that same Bloomberg study -- yes, that's right.
CONWAY: And you're not covering health care.
STELTER: Eleven percent for immigration.
STELTER: But that same "Bloomberg" poll found that only 40 percent of Americans approve of this president. Is your strategy now and Scaramucci's strategy only to play to the base or you try to reach 100 percent of Americans, not just 40?
CONWAY: No. I thank you for putting the poll up because I want your viewers to see, I appreciate that, 35 percent health care. The only coverage CNN really gives health care is whether or not it will pass, whether or not they have the votes, whether or not this will be a colossal legislative failure.
STELTER: And it collapsed this week, a stunning failure, one of the biggest stories of the year.
CONWAY: So, there you go, using those words, stunning failure. But, look, if you want it to be a stunning failure or you're going to insist it is a stunning failure, you are denying literally the millions and millions of Americans who were lied to by the last president. You like your plan, keep your plan. If you like your doctor, keep your doctor.
They don't have health care benefits through their employer like you and I do. They don't have --
STELTER: That was 2009, it's 2017. Let's look forward and not backwards all the time.
CONWAY: We're living with Obamacare. Yes, let's look forward, let's look forward, and let's look at all the people who did not benefit from Obamacare. You can't sit here, Brian, and deny the fact that 19 of the 23 co-ops under Obamacare have failed. They're gone. Eighty- three insurers have pulled out of the exchanges with dozens more promising to do so this year and next year.
We have -- if Obamacare is not repealed by 2018, we will have over 1,300 counties where there is one choice which means there's no choice. Right now, we have 40 bear counties with no choice. Medicaid is unsustainable. We're trying to save it for the future. We're trying to give flexibility to the governors. Help change the accounts.
STELTER: I appreciate that.
CONWAY: Well, but the reason, the only time you're going to cover that because I'm here.
STELTER: There's plenty of time to cover both. There's plenty of time to cover both. We're on a 24-hour channel with an infinite Website.
CONWAY: I agree.
STELTER: Russia is a big story because --
STELTER: -- journalists love America and America was attacked last year. And America's probably going to be attacked again next year around the midterms, when you call it a hoax.
CONWAY: And that has what do with our campaign that I managed? I managed the winning campaign. It has what to do with that campaign?
STELTER: That may be because by the time you became campaign manager, the deal was already in. The conversations were already had.
CONWAY: That's just not true.
STELTER: We don't know, Kellyanne, but shouldn't we find out?
CONWAY: Are you actually alleging there was active conversations with Russians trying to change the election results? Because very few people are actually saying that. Are you saying that, or are you just trying to put it out there because you guys are so invested in there being something there?
STELTER: We don't know.
CONWAY: What is there? What constitutional crisis are we facing right now? I tell you what, I tell you what we do know --
STELTER: I'm going to leave that to Jeffrey Toobin and the law expert.
STELTER: But many people are afraid if this president fires Robert Mueller, we will be in a constitutional crisis. Why doesn't the president just want Mueller to prove that Trump is right, that Russia was a hoax? Why doesn't he want Mueller to go ahead and confirm that for him?
CONWAY: Well, isn't Mr. Mueller and his band of Democratic donors doing that? Are they trying to do that?
But, look, Brian, let's back up. Again, I'm asking you to please cover the issues that America are telling pollsters, including CNN's pollsters. You at CNN are not making good. You are not being honest to your own polling if you look at the issues that people say are most important to them. You're not covering them. You just went right back to Russia.
STELTER: I think people can believe in a -- I think people can care about multiple issues at the same time.
CONWAY: Right. So, why aren't you covering them? Why are most of your lower third --
STELTER: Certainly, folks that I talk to care about a lot of issues.
CONWAY: Of course, that's America and that's Donald Trump. He ran on a lot of issues. He is making good on those promises with or without the help of a number of cable stations.
But, let's be honest here. You cannot with a straight face tell me that most -- you have this disproportionate, out of whack, unequal coverage on Russia with nothing there.
[11:10:06] There's nobody -- even Chuck Schumer this weekend gave an interview --
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Just because you say it doesn't make it true.
CONWAY: -- suggesting that Hillary Clinton should look in the mirror.
I'd say that right back to you. But here's what is true. Millions of people don't have health care and they thought they would. Millions of people looking for jobs.
The unemployment rate way down. The job creation way up. The stock market way up. The regulatory reform --
STELTER: And Americans know that. Americans feel it. But still --
CONWAY: Well, they only know if they're looking elsewhere.
STELTER: -- 50 percent of Americans strongly disapprove of the president. You're a pollster, will that ever change? Are you trying to convince the 60 percent or according to Gallup -- we'll show the headline that has a record low approval rating as of this weekend -- 36 percent. That means that almost two-thirds of Americans don't support the president right now.
CONWAY: That's not what that means.
STELTER: Are you trying to persuade them or --
CONWAY: That's a misread of that poll.
STELTER: -- is the strategy, Kellyanne, just to appeal to the base from now on?
CONWAY: No, and again, you want that to say the president said on November 9th, as he was elected, as Hillary Clinton called my cell phone and congratulated and important word, conceded. I know that they can't -- they can't let go of these election results.
STELTER: We're talking about Hillary Clinton, again? Honestly, I don't have time for that.
CONWAY: Brian, excuse me, if you're going to talk about Russia and you're going to talk about e-mails and you're going to talk about investigations, you're going to always be talking about Hillary Clinton.
STELTER: You're actually the one that brought up Russia. I didn't bring up Russia.
CONWAY: No, no, your network is obsessed with that. You're invested in it. All the chyrons say it constantly, all the guests talk about it, and the reason I raised her --
STELTER: There's a big story going on, Kellyanne and just because you don't deny it doesn't mean it's not a big story.
CONWAY: It's not a big story. What makes it big, you can't tell me this is about the campaign and we're not to talk about Hillary Clinton. The reason I just raised her is because when she called to concede the election to Donald Trump, he immediately went up to the podium and said something that remains true at this moment. He said, I will be the president of all Americans, even those who do not support me.
He's not appealing to the base. He's making good on his promises. When I go out around this country, as you do, and you ever want to cover it, come and join me. When I go out around this country for the opioid crisis --
STELTER: You're in New York right now, I'm not. But I agree with you on the opioid crisis.
CONWAY: Brian, hold on.
STELTER: The opioid crisis has been undercovered by the national media.
STELTER: We have to do a better job covering that. I agree with you.
CONWAY: Come and follow me, you're welcome. I don't want it to be a media spectacle.
STELTER: But why doesn't the president talk about it, Kellyanne? Journalists would follow him wherever he goes.
CONWAY: Now, hold on, he talks about it plenty. As a White House commission, there is $45 billion committed to it in his health care bill. And he's got Secretary Tom Price of HHS --
STELTER: He's tweeting about pardons. He's not tweeting about the opioid crisis. I would love for him to tweet about real issues.
CONWAY: He tweets about many things and he's put together a White House commission on this, a bipartisan commission, and he's sending Secretary of HHS Tom Price and I out to meet with people. And I want to tell you something, when I meet with those people who are suffering from the opioid crisis, the scourge of our times, where no state has been spared, no demographic group untouched, I never asked a single one nor would I ever, hey, do you support the president? How did you vote? Are you a Democrat?
We're here to help everyone and we would like your help, at least being honest enough to say people in this country who aren't as privileged as you and me, Brian, are suffering. And we're there for them.
And, you know, when you talk about these approval ratings, when you talk about -- look at the approval on the economy. Look at -- look at the numbers that matter to people. Look at all the job creation. Look at the $70 billion they project will be saved, the 14 congressional review acts that this president has put forth.
Look at how he's building the wall. Look at the illegal border crosses down. Look at ISIS in retreat. Look at him negotiating a ceasefire in part of Syria --
STELTER: ISIS was in retreat before November 8th or 9th. A lot of these things were already happening.
CONWAY: No, they weren't.
STELTER: I appreciate your point about the president's momentum.
CONWAY: No, they weren't.
STELTER: But this is a White House in crisis whether you recognize it or not. The credibility gap is severe.
CONWAY: Why? I work there. Where do you get that? Where do you get that? It's a White House in crisis? Back it up.
STELTER: The credibility gap is severe.
CONWAY: To what? To the people at CNN.
STELTER: The president's misleading and false statements on a regular basis. To -- well, to most of the country even if you're going to stick with that 36 percent that approve no matter what.
CONWAY: No, you're not looking at part of the disapproval are the independents who voted for him and want him to ignore all the nonsense and all the noise and all the Russian nonsense.
CONWAY: That's part of it. Part of it is people upset with Congress. The president's approval rating is far higher than the approval rating of the media or the Congress and there's a reason for that.
Americans are looking at the media. They're looking at Congress and saying, do your job. Your job is not to Russia, Russia, Russia all day long, and hoping that something, manna will drop from heaven one day and this will be real and not phony.
STELTER: That's not how it works and you know.
CONWAY: The job in the Congress, the job in the Congress --
STELTER: Journalists are figuring out what is going on through investigations.
CONWAY: OK. Well, why don't you cover what you do know is real? Which is that millions of Americans don't have health care.
STELTER: There's a lots of reporters who are covering a lot of things.
CONWAY: No, they're not. We've done a content analysis.
STELTER: You're acting as if what you see on one hour -- you're acting like what you see on one hour of --
CONWAY: One hour?
STELTER: You're acting like what you see on one hour of CNN equates to the entire national news media, tens of thousands of hard-working journalists who love America --
[11:15:00] CONWAY: Yes, they do.
STELTER: -- who also want to make sure that the president is doing his job.
CONWAY: Yes, they do. Sure. But you look at his job through the lens of Russia. I look at his job through the lens of America. So, on that, we're always going to disagree. Number two and most importantly, this president is out there all the
time. I mean, you've got CNN reporters with him. If you just stopped and talked to those people and asked them why they're there, how did these, how do the veterans feel now that they've got an ability to access care? How do the coal miners feel that their health care benefits were protected and the regulatory burden that was placed on them by the last president was lifted in the first couple of months? How do the pro lifers feel?
STELTER: It sounds like you should be an assignment editor, Kellyanne. I'm sure you can get a job in the newsroom.
CONWAY: Why would I want that? I'm counsel to the president. But I am telling that we're working on stuff --
STELTER: Because you're listing off all these stories that you believe are undercovered. And I respect that you though they don't get enough attention.
CONWAY: They are. They are. But you know what? Twitter is not an assignment editor.
STELTER: But journalists also recognized there are big scandals going on.
CONWAY: What scandals going on?
STELTER: I agree with you on that.
CONWAY: Name them.
STELTER: But since it's a show about the media, since --
CONWAY: I want to hear about. No, you can't get away with that. What are the, quote, big scandals going on? Please, name them for me.
STELTER: When you look at this president's rhetoric, his demagogic behavior when it comes to the media --
CONWAY: His rhetoric is scandal?
STELTER: Yes, it actually. But the more important scandals --
CONWAY: It is? His rhetoric is a scandal?
STELTER: -- or what happened before -- you don't think that his words against the media are poisoned, Kellyanne, actually hurting the country on a daily basis?
CONWAY: Wait, his rhetoric is a scandal? STELTER: When he calls real news outlets fake, when he calls real
news outlets fake news, he poisons our public discourse.
CONWAY: Hey, Brian --
STELTER: It makes it harder for us to communicate as a country.
CONWAY: So, I've never used those words.
STELTER: Makes it harder for us to trust each other.
CONWAY: I've never used those words.
STELTER: And I wonder why that is.
CONWAY: But hold on, but it doesn't stop, it doesn't stop people at CNN on personally attacking each of us and running these ridiculous palace intrigue stories basically since the day we've been there where the only people that got fired so far --
STELTER: There shouldn't be personal attacks. But there is a lot of palace intrigue, Kellyanne.
CONWAY: The only people who got fired so far, the only people who got fired so far don't work in the West Wing in his inner circle. They worked at CNN. Three of your colleagues got fired here because they rushed to judgment to our new communications director --
STELTER: So, you're complimenting CNN --
CONWAY: -- Anthony Scaramucci.
STELTER: -- you're complimenting CNN for taking action --
CONWAY: No, I'm --
STELTER: -- and holding journalists accountable for not following editorial practices.
CONWAY: No, I don't think you had a choice. I don't think you had a choice here. You're under threat of lawsuits.
STELTER: Why hasn't the White House held aides accountable for false statements?
CONWAY: Brian, that is ridiculous. Are you telling me the fact that three of your colleagues were forced to resign or got fired here because they were slandering my new White House colleague Anthony Scaramucci, was gracious and humble enough to say, I'm glad they retracted the story, I accept their apology because he's got class and grace? Are you telling me that that was -- that reflects well on CNN that you're going to go out with thinly or not sourced (ph) stories, that end up being complete slanderous, hit jobs on a good man?
I mean, that -- this is a two-way street. But, look, you're looking at everything through the lens of the media.
STELTER: Kellyanne, you've been an anonymous source.
CONWAY: You said -- hold on.
STELTER: Lots of people in the White House had been an anonymous source.
CONWAY: Excuse me, hold on.
STELTER: This morning, Anthony Scaramucci said on "STATE" -- go ahead.
CONWAY: Go ahead. No, I just wanted to say you said there are, quote, big scandals, and when I asked you what these big scandals are, because I can't let these incendiary words just float out there with no evidence. I can't -- just because won't click, they want things to go viral, they want ad revenues, I won't do that.
But if you can tell me what these big scandals are -- you came back with rhetoric and you made it about the media.
STELTER: I'm not trying to go viral.
CONWAY: But you made it about the media.
STELTER: The scandals are about the president's lies, about voter fraud --
CONWAY: Excuse me?
STELTER: -- about wiretapping, his repeated lies about those issues. That's the scandal.
CONWAY: He doesn't think he's lying about those issues and you know it. He has gone forth and he talked about surveillance. And you we've got --
STELTER: A lot of husbands don't think they're lying when they cheat on their spouse and then say they're not. It doesn't mean you're not lying.
CONWAY: Oh, are you back to the Clintons now? What are you talking about? What kind of analogy is that? I mean, look, Brian --
STELTER: I appreciate the Clinton pivot. I do. I respect what you do and how you do it. What can we take a look at something --
CONWAY: You and I are going to disagree. STELTER: -- that Anthony Scaramucci said on "STATE OF THE UNION" this
CONWAY: I watched the whole interview yes.
STELTER: Scaramucci said there could be leaks coming from the White House communication shop. Let's play the clip for those that didn't see it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Tomorrow, I'm gong to have a meeting with communications staff and say, hey, I don't like these leaks. So, we're going to stop the leaks. And if we don't stop the leaks, I'm going to stop you. It's just really that simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Do you think that's true that there have been leaks from inside the comms shop?
CONWAY: I'll be in that meeting.
Here's what I'm going to tell you -- I think our job at the White House is not sit there and read about ourselves to try to curate our images. I mean, obviously, I'd get much better press coverage if I were good at that. And if you got people who has folks working overtime for them and not the president, whether they're inside or outside the White House, I am interested in people getting truthful, relevant, timely information out to America.
And I think the media's job is to be skeptical, but not cynical. I think the media's job is to be probing or punctilious, frankly, or pugnacious. I deal -- and if you're going to tell me that this hasn't been a very contentious relationship since day one, it's just not true, Brian.
[11:20:05] I've been somebody who's --
CONWAY: But I'm not even in the press and comms shop.
STELTER: I agree that it has been. I agree that it has been. Right.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I deal -- and if you're going to tell me that this hasn't been a very contentious relationship since day one, it's just not true, Brian. I've been somebody who's --
CONWAY: But I'm not even in the press and comms shop.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: I agree that it has been. I agree that it has been. Right.
CONWAY: But I try to support their efforts completely because we're working on behalf of America.
STELTER: And I was wondering, will you be reporting to Scaramucci now that he is taking more power?
CONWAY: No, I report to the president. I report directly to the president as he does.
CONWAY: And that's benefitted me because --
STELTER: Were you consulted in bringing in Scaramucci?
CONWAY: I was. But, look, I'm going to tell you something, I try to make this conversation about the American people and the ones who are truly suffering and you went back to making it about the media. I respect that but I want to make sure --
STELTER: This is a program about the media, Kellyanne. You knew that when you came on the show.
CONWAY: Correct, correct. Well, that's correct, but remember, I think, if you disagree with me, you're welcome to say so, it's your program, and I respect that. But do you agree or disagree, Brian, that one essential component of the media writ large or the Fourth Estate is to make sure that America gets the information they need and they deserve because but for you telling them they may not hear the information.
STELTER: I agree with you but you and I disagree on is that that's not happening. I think it is happening. I think the public is better informed than ever before and is able to access all of it on the Internet.
If you don't mind, let me ask you one more question about the media because we're on RELIABLE SOURCES. There is a pending merger, AT&T and Time Warner. Time Warner is owned by CNN. There was a report this week in "Vanity Fair" that the president of the United States was complaining about CNN in front of the CEO of AT&T. So, I'm wondering, have you talked with the president about this pending merger? CONWAY: I won't reveal my private conversations with the president.
I know that that gentleman, I think, has been very helpful to us in some of our business counsel or roundtables and we appreciate that. We invited CEOs and working men and women and everybody across, Obamacare victims, people we had, people in the White House from many different listening sessions. And I believe that he has been among them and we appreciate that.
STELTER: And the point about that, about the CEO being there is people are wondering and the "Vanity Fair" story implied that maybe the president is trying to punish CNN by maybe not approving the deal or maybe asking for concessions in the deal. Do you know anything about that? CONWAY: No. And again, you are going by, you just said the word
implied. So, that's an important word. Thank you for admitting that. You're going by, you know, circumspect, implied information where people --
STELTER: That's right. That's all it is. There's no proof. But there is concern that the president would be trying to punish a news outlet for coverage he doesn't like through a business transaction. That is a concern.
CONWAY: I can tell you that is not what consumes his day. I promise you that. He is there for the people who are relying upon him to make good on his promises to be a sovereign nation that has borders where we worry about America, American interest, American workers, Americans allies here and abroad, where the 50,000 or 60,000 factories that had been shuttered don't anymore, where that stop, so the jobs stay here, where people feel like they don't have to live paycheck to paycheck, where this president won't lie to them about health care.
STELTER: We appreciate all of that.
CONWAY: And so, that's what consumes his days. I'm right there with him --
STELTER: But he also tweets a lot about television.
CONWAY: He tweets -- well, so? You should be happy that we have such an engaged --
STELTER: He also tweets a lot about television.
CONWAY: You should be happy that we have such an engaged president. But, you know, 99 percent of what the president does and says is not on Twitter. It's done in the Oval Office. It's done in his cabinet meetings, meetings with different cabinet members.
It's done with business leaders. It's done with his national security briefing, his intelligence briefing every day. It's done with the vice president. It's done with the senior staff.
We're trying to be accessible. I have always been someone who I thought has decent relationships with many in the media. But I don't know how this is sustainable.
He's the president. If you can say to me with a straight face right now, Brian, that this -- that people on this network are more likely to show respect to him than disrespect, I'm listening. But I don't believe it from a content analysis alone -- the furrow brows, the rolling of the eyes --
STELTER: I respect the president.
CONWAY: -- the curling of the lips. STELTER: And I also respect you. And I'm worried -- more than
anything else, Kellyanne, I'm worried about the credibility problem. That's -- you know, when you hear us come on television and say, why should we believe them? It's because on things like on January 21st, when you talked about alternative facts -- January 22nd -- talking about alternative facts, I wonder if you regret that six months later.
CONWAY: Do you know what alternative facts are? Do you know what alternative facts are? Do you know what they are? Partly cloudy --
STELTER: I think they're your interpretation of what is going on. Go ahead.
CONWAY: No, that is just not true. That's not true. So, let's put it to rest here and I'm sure it won't get covered and you won't tweet it out today. But let's do it.
Alternative facts, by the way, I meant to say alternative figures --
STELTER: I'm going to tweet it right now. I have a computer.
CONWAY: There you go. Good.
But alternative facts are partly sunny, partly cloudy. Alternative facts are when all of you in the media say we have the highest rated show and another show that's a competitor says, no, we have the highest rating show because one of you is using all the viewers overall, and the other ones are using the demo. Alternative facts, Brian Stelter.
STELTER: You're study (ph), that's right.
CONWAY: No, alternative fact, glass half full/glass half empty. Everybody knew what I meant and there are hiccups and missteps in the media every single day, but nobody bothered to ask me. They just wanted to look at it through the most negative lens possible.
They know that what Sean Spicer meant by that is that you now in 2017 have people looking at the inauguration up close and in person.
[11:25:09] You have people watching on their screens, which they couldn't do ten years earlier. You have people certainly watching on TV, listening to the radio, multi-media way of doing that.
But I also said on all the networks that day that I didn't think it was a particularly important piece of information because it doesn't matter. What matters is if the president is able to move the needle economically and through national security. And indeed, since January 22nd, he has. That's not an alternative fact, that's a fact.
Stock market up 25 record highs, fact. Over 800,000 jobs created, fact. Health care reform on its way and tax reform right after that, fact, fact.
But alternative facts -- let me just repeat for those at home, partly cloudy, partly sunny. When CNN says it's got the highest rated show and then a competitor says, no, we do, because one is using the demo and one using the overall ratings, and so, ask any lawyer any time when an alternative fact is.
But thank you for raising. I knew you meant it to be snarky, but I'm glad to at least have the platform to explain it. The president is --
STELTER: I hope you come back, Kellyanne.
CONWAY: I will come back.
STELTER: Will you come back?
CONWAY: And I hope you'll come to the White House and come on the road with me to meet Americans who think that help is on the way. No, they're not the base.
We hear from people all the time who say, you know, no, I didn't vote this year. I didn't vote for him. But he's the president.
And they'll say, I respect the office of the president and its current occupant and I want him to succeed. It's our nation, our time. And I agree with them.
STELTER: I will text you. I'll set it up. Kellyanne, thanks for being here.
CONWAY: Awesome. Thank you. Take care, Brian.
STELTER: More to come here. You can watch Anthony Scaramucci's one- on-one with Jake Tapper, something we mentioned to Conway coming up next hour, noon Eastern Time, here on CNN.
Up next, Anthony Scaramucci making all the Sunday rounds. We have an all-star panel standing by, with one of the big questions about Robert Mueller. Is FOX News and Trump aides like Conway, are they prepping the battlefield to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation? We'll talk about it right after this break.
STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
What a weekend it's been, the six-month mark of the Trump presidency marked by a shocking shakeup on Friday, something many people saw coming, but didn't think it was going to happen right when it did, Sean Spicer resigning, Anthony Scaramucci coming in as communications director, Sarah Huckabee Sanders promoted.
Let's talk through all of it with an all-star panel of people who have been there, done that, including Tara Palmeri, a reporter for Politico covering the White House, also a CNN analyst, Dan Pfeiffer, who was President Obama's former White House communications director, now with CNN as well. Don Baer, who was a communications director in the Clinton White House, now he is the -- he was also the chief speechwriter back then for Clinton.
Now he's worldwide CEO of the strategic communications firm Burson- Marsteller, and Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
Great to have you all here.
We're going to stay with you for the rest of the hour because there's so much to analyze.
First to you, Tara. Let's get honest about this. When you interview Kellyanne Conway or other Trump aides on television, you get a lot of viewers who say, get that person off my TV. That person shouldn't be allowed on TV. I don't want to hear them spin all day.
What do you make of that? What do you make of how polarized the country is to the point where a lot of viewers don't even think we should hear from people like Conway or Scaramucci?
TARA PALMERI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they should be on television, although they may offend some people who don't agree with them politically.
We should be hearing from the people who work in the White House because at the end of the day, personnel is policy. Whoever has more power in that White House is going to affect the way that policy turns that day. You saw that from the Paris climate agreement. You saw that when Peter Navarro in the trade office was cooking up a NAFTA plan to actually pull out of the agreement.
So, as much as someone, you know, like Kellyanne or others in the White House may say we're so tired of palace intrigue stories, palace intrigue and who has power in this White House, which is very much segmented, really will tell you what is going to happen that week and how it's going to affect everyday American people.
And while it may seem very far away and a little mercurial, it is good to have these people on the record talking about what's happening in the White House, even if there are denials and spin. And it's our job to sort of break it down and explain, hey, this person, at this moment, has a lot of power.
They have seven people working underneath them and right now Trump is actually listening to them. For example, Steve Bannon right now is sort of on the outs. And I think you are going to see that reflected in policy.
Someone like Gary Cohn on the National Economic Council, he is rising up. Anthony Scaramucci, a Long Island financier, his stock is super high in the White House right now and he's sort of more aligned with, you know, the globalist side, the pro-banking, the pro-trade side of the White House. I really do think it is important for them to be speaking, for them to
be showing America their world view because they are the people who are affecting the world that we live in.
STELTER: Scott Jennings, you're new here at CNN. You have been supportive of President Trump. There was a report that you actually, that someone from the White House reached out to you and asked if maybe you would come on in a communication job.
Is that true? And if so, why did you decline?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm not going to talk about any conversations that I have had with the White House.
I do want to talk with Tara, though, about the need to have White House officials on television, because the alternative is sources say. So, if you have on-the-record sources that are willing to come on television and talk about what the president's agenda is, I think Tara is exactly right.
You need to interview those people. And, look, Kellyanne this morning had some things she wanted to talk about. You had some things that you wanted to talk about. And I think all of those things collectively are important. You gave her a lot of time.
And so I think interviews like that, the ones that Scaramucci is doing this morning, I think they are vital to making sure that people are feeling like they're hearing directly from named sources at the White House.
STELTER: Right. Right.
I think it's newsworthy that Scaramucci is doing these interviews. He also spoke with Breitbart yesterday. He seems to want to be very visible.
But my view is that no amount of smooth talking and no amount of spin can solve this White House's crises.
Scott, do you think I'm wrong?
JENNINGS: Well, I think that the White House has a lot of things going on that they think, if only people would cover it more, it would really alter perceptions of this presidency.
So, that's why you hear Kellyanne talking about those things. I think there's an enormous amount of frustration. They feel like that issues related to the Russia investigations, for instance, get vastly more coverage than issues than the economic turnaround that they think is happening because of the decisions they're making.
The frustration, I think, boiled over last week. That's what caused...
STELTER: But if we're being honest, Scott, wouldn't the economy be doing pretty well under Hillary Clinton also?
I got a little frustrated by Kellyanne's comment about that, because if you look at job growth this time last year under Obama, it's pretty much the same as it is today. They are taking credit for something that they may not deserve 100 percent credit for.
JENNINGS: That is an allegation you can make against any White House.
Whoever the president is going to take credit if the economy is doing better.
JENNINGS: And I think they think they have made some policy decisions particularly on the regulatory side that have boosted confidence in the American business sector to reinvest, create jobs, et cetera, et cetera.
Look, the reality is I think there is frustration at the White House that they think their better policy decisions are not getting covered and the worst of it, the Russia investigation and whatever they would say is most the frustrating, is getting too much coverage.
And that's frankly I think what led to Scaramucci. He is someone who I think is going to be out there and pretty combative and pretty forceful about making that case. And I think the president certainly wants to see people on TV who are willing to have that fight all day, every day.
STELTER: Let's go inside the decision with Don and Dan, since both of you were communication directors, however, in Democratic White Houses.
Tell me, Dan -- actually, Don, if you don't mind, Don first, Don, because you were there for the Clinton years looking back a couple decades. What should Scaramucci do and how should the press street this change?
DON BAER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, what I think Scaramucci should do is not what he has already started to do.
He does not need to be a high-profile public figure out there on every television show. The press secretary is supposed to be the one who deals mostly with press. Certainly, we've got multiple spokespeople who will go out. And maybe Scaramucci is good at this and he will want to do some of it.
But the truth is what this White House needs is exactly what Kellyanne demonstrated they don't have the capability to do. They need discipline and focus and they need someone inside who is able to bring them several things that strategic communications ought to be bringing them.
They need to be persuasive. They need to both hold on to who their supporters are, but bring over those swing voters which they're losing, we know they're losing, because of their poll numbers and what's going on there. They need to be creative and they need to find new ways to engage people, so that they're actually paying attention to what they want them to pay attention to, rather than all this other noise, and be inspiring at the same time.
It would be useful for them to actually move some people to believe they're acting in the better interests of the whole country. They need to be integrated. There are so many different voices, and coordinated. There are so many different voices, so many different platforms, so many different messages that are out there.
They need a lot more coordination. And, finally, they need to be sustained. They need to be able to carry a message and a theme and a set of ideas forward for more than half-an-hour.
And I think Kellyanne's performance demonstrates exactly why they need someone who will work inside to bring the focus and the discipline. I don't know whether that's what Scaramucci was hired for. I don't know whether the president understands that or whether Scaramucci sees that as his role. But to me, without that, they are never going to move an agenda forward for this president.
STELTER: And, Dan, last word to you.
You were very recently there, this time last year, not this time last year, but recently in the Obama years doing this job. What should Scaramucci know about it? What do you think of what Don just said?
DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.
I think Don is right that Scaramucci may be the right guy in the wrong job, because communications director job, what it really boils down to is you have to develop and execute a strategic communications plan, but you use it to persuade the public, Congress and stakeholders to adopt the president's agenda.
And it's utilized in the president, the vice president and everyone on down to undersecretaries and far-flung agencies to communicate the message. And it's not the job you can do if you're sitting in a cable news green room all the time, like it seems Scaramucci wants to do.
I think being on TV, we basically have a press secretary and a communications job. And I don't know that that's going to solve the problems that have been plaguing the Trump administration, because it is one of not having a plan, not having discipline and not having the -- what I would recommend Scaramucci do, actually, is hire some people who have real governmental experience both in previous administration or on Congress actually enacting a legislative agenda, because his experience does not really fit with what the communications director does, even as polished a TV personality as he is.
STELTER: Yes, like staying on message and legislative agenda, these are terms we have used on television for lots of years. Isn't part of the Trump message the chaos, the confusion, the drama?
Isn't that actually part of his message?
BAER: That's why he's not moving forward at all on an agenda and getting anything done on behalf of the American people right now.
STELTER: I think to myself, when they talk about draining the swamp, it's very, very hard to do actually that.
He just hired a hedge fund guy, a very rich person, to come in and run communications while talking about draining the swamp. I wonder if what they mean by draining the swamp is attacking the media, because that is something they can show that looks like action, even though it's not.
Dan, your thought?
PFEIFFER: Yes, I think the one thing that unites the various wings of the Trump White House that Tara talked about, the Bannon-Breitbart wing, the Kushner globalist wing or whatever they call it, is hatred for the media.
Now, I will say every White House since the beginning of time has believed if only the press more fairly covered their boss, their approval would be up, they would get more done.
But what is different is, in most White Houses, it's venting. Right? In this White House, it is the only strategy they can all agree on, which is to attack the media. It's not clear what strategic objective that ladders up to, but it's the one thing that everyone there seems to be bought into.
PALMERI: I think the one thing about Scaramucci -- and they have actually taken a lesson from Dan Pfeiffer and his shop is what I have heard from my sources.
They actually want to have more one-on-one time between the president and reporters off the record in the way that Obama did. He often had reporters into his Oval Office for happy hours just to talk about policy.
That's something that's not happening right now. While they may be outward viciously attacking the press, right now, they're really regrouping about how to have a better relationship with the press behind the scenes. That's what you're going to be seeing coming forward.
He is looking at the people who work in the communications shop right now. A lot of them are very closely tied to the RNC, to Sean Spicer and to Reince Priebus. And they have had a much more combative relationship behind the scenes with the press.
It's also more combative than what you are seeing during the press briefing. If you saw Scaramucci, he's going around the room saying, I will get around to all of you. Thank you for your questions. They're trying to change the tone.
At the end of the day, the dirty little secret is that Trump really loves the press. And he likes spending time with them. He loves interviews, especially on-the-record ones, even more than off-the- record ones. I think you're going to see a shift with him.
STELTER: Panel, stand by.
After the break, the behind-the-scenes story of how that "New York Times" interview happened. It started off the record. We will talk about how it went on the record and what we learned from that incredible interview right after this break.
STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
This week, a team of reporters from "The New York Times" visited the White House for what was originally planed to be an off-the-record, just get-to-know-you meet-and-greet with President Trump.
But the reporters had lots of questions. And they persuaded the president to go on the record so they could quote him for the majority of a 50-minute long interview. And what an interview it was.
Trump said he regretted appointing his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. And the president seemed to warn Robert Mueller not to look into his finances.
There was so much news from this interview and so much intrigue about how and why it happened.
So, back with me now, the panel, Tara Palmeri, Don Baer, Dan Pfeiffer, and Scott Jennings.
Thank you all for sticking around.
Scott, first to you on this "New York Times" interview. I would like to see the president giving more interviews, also maybe hold more press conferences, since he hasn't done that since February.
But was this "New York Times" interview ill-advised because of all of the comments he made about the Russia investigations?
JENNINGS: Well, I'm not a lawyer, but if I had to imagine what the president's lawyers were thinking about it, it's probably cringing a little bit, because he did say some things in the interview that have implications for the investigation and that have implications for the people who are going to have to answer questions before Congress and before the special counsel.
That's unfortunate. It was also unfortunate for Jeff Sessions some of the things that were said. So, I actually think the president is probably his best advocate. So, I want to see him doing more interactions with the press, although I think in this particular case, it might have been a bit ill-timed to do a wide-ranging interview at this moment, although, again, I think the president should be as accessible as he wants be.
And, clearly, as Tara said earlier, he likes to do these things. This timing on this one might have been a bit off.
STELTER: Dan Pfeiffer, to borrow the words of David French, "National Review," it seems like FOX News and some of Trump aides are prepping the battlefield for the moment when the president may fire Robert Mueller.
Is the press taking that possibility seriously enough? Are journalists sort of wrapping their heads around the significance of what a crisis this could be?
PFEIFFER: I think so.
I think sort of the political world and the media learned a lesson because it seemed impossible to imagine that Trump would ever fire Jim Comey. And then he did that, which was -- in addition to just violating an important government norm, was a massive political and legal mistake.
And so I think the press is rightfully taking Trump's musings about this seriously. And the question to me is not whether the media is going to take it seriously. It's whether Republicans in the Congress will actually do anything if Trump were to take that unprecedented and dangerous step.
STELTER: Is the hardest part of your job, Tara Palmeri, as the White House correspondent for Politico, just trying to connect all the dots every day?
There are so many stories every day about President Trump. Here we are talking about his White House for the entire hour this morning.
There are so many news stories that happen, so many shocking things that happen. Is it hard to sometimes step back from the glass and actually get the big-picture view as a reporter?
PALMERI: It is very difficult.
Even on Friday, usually, there's -- that's the day when you dump news, especially at the end of the day, that you don't really want the public to read, because they don't tend to buy the newspaper on a Saturday morning.
And Jared Kushner revealed that he left off 77 different companies that he has debt to over almost a billion dollars. That is the kind of story that would completely dominate the news coverage for at least a week in the prior administration. And these stories, they just -- they can't stick. Nothing really sticks.
And so sometimes as a reporter, you really do have to just...
STELTER: What do you mean nothing really sticks?
If you look at the president's record low approval ratings, that indicates to me the public is paying attention and is very disturbed by what's going on.
PALMERI: You could say that. There's definitely a feeling, I think, that people have about this presidency and how he's doing.
It may have even less to do with the media coverage and more to do with the fact that he's struggling legislatively, because, like you said, you can choose your news. If you watch FOX News, you watch a different network, you get a totally different idea of the story.
And I think Americans think that they have to read and choose, choose their news. A lot of them do. But at end of the day, I think, as you said, like, reporters, we do just have to sit back. We have to think about all the things that happened this week, and we have to continue to use that to build the blocks into a bigger story and use context when these things continue to happen, when we hear these Sessions stories, when the mumblings about Bob Mueller being fired.
I, as a reporter, don't think that Trump, from what my sources say, will fire Bob Mueller. When Comey was fired, it was out of the blue. Whenever Trump fires people, it has been, in this administration, out of the blue. Katie Walsh, his deputy chief of staff, Mike Dubke, the communications director, you didn't see it coming.
PALMERI: Saying that he's going to fire Mueller, it is part of the smear campaign, the idea that he could be fired. It questions his credibility.
PALMERI: And Trump is one of those people who doesn't like to think that he's been played by the media and they are on to him about what his next step will be.
He wants to say, you got it wrong. You said Reince is going to get fired. Fake news. He enjoys saying that to his staffers. In a way, we have so much more control than you would even think, because when he sees something in the media that predicts his next move, it might actually change his next move.
STELTER: And do the opposite.
Yes, go ahead.
BAER: Well, I was just going to say, I think "The New York Times" demonstrates more than anything we've seen lately why this White House needs a strategic communications function that it doesn't have. The most important lever, most powerful lever any White House has is
the voice of the president. And imagine if he had spent that hour with "The New York Times" reporters on the record talking about what he wants the country to believe he's already done, and the agenda that he wants to push forward, maybe even if he talked about health care, and how he wanted Congress now to solve the health care situation now, and other things, tax reform, that he thinks are important.
Imagine what a difference that could have made for him. Instead, he's distracted the whole country to Russia, which is exactly the issue that he wants to move away from.
I was a White House correspondent covering the first Bush administration before I did all these other things. And I can tell you, we would have died for an hour-long interview on the record like that with the president.
One way or the other, whether he was talking about all the shenanigans going on in his White House or talking about his agenda, they are misusing the most important, most powerful tool that they have.
PALMERI: At the time, though, there was really only "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." But now he can choose whoever he wants to speak to. The media had more power then to decide when the president got to speak to the people.
BAER: Well, actually, I worked elsewhere.
BAER: And we had some power there, too, but that's a different story.
STELTER: Just one more point.
Don, since now you run a worldwide P.R. firm, do you expect the president and his aides to allow the cameras back on in the White House briefings? For the better part of a month, almost all the briefings, all of the briefings, have been off-camera.
Friday, for the first time in almost a month, Scaramucci and Sanders came on-camera.
This is an ongoing problem. I don't want to lose sight of it. The Sunlight Foundation this week, at the six-month mark, said this is a White House hostile toward the press, a secretive government allergic to transparency.
Turning the cameras on could maybe help with that. Do you think they will do it?
BAER: I actually think they will do it, Brian, for a while, because Scaramucci is going to want to look like he's playing ball and he's the cooperative and collaborative one, until they have the chance to use it again as a stick to whack the press with. STELTER: I see.
BAER: But here's -- I think you ought to go well past that.
Kellyanne offered you the chance to come in, find out what's going on inside the White House, follow her around. I think you should recommend an hour-long special in which you go in and you find out what's really happening in this communications apparatus.
It will be huge ratings. It will be great for everyone, and it will a real service to the country.
STELTER: Don Baer, Tara Palmeri, Dan Pfeiffer, Scott Jennings, thank you all for being here on this special edition of the program.
PALMERI: Thank you.
JENNINGS: Thank you.
STELTER: Sign up for our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter at RELIABLESOURCES.com six nights a weekend, all the day's media news wrapped up for you and in your inbox at RELIABLESOURCES.com.
We will be back here this time next week for more conversation about the media and its role in society and politics.
Thanks for tuning in, and we will see you next week.